Jade Cocoon 2 Review
In the fall of 1998, Playstation owners were treated to one of the more graphically impressive and innovative titles ever released on the console. Telling the tale of Levant, a young man charged with saving the world, Jade Cocoon: The Story of Tamamayu delivered some incredibly fresh concepts to the RPG genre, mainly the ability to capture, raise, and command various monsters. With over 150 unique monsters available in the game, including several different attributes, Jade Cocoon offered the kind of depth in gameplay that makes an RPG successful. Now, the Jade Cocoon saga continues, offering us a new hero in the young Kahu, descendant of a powerful 'cocoon master', and a boy yearning to grow as a man, and as legendary beast hunter.
Under the tutelage of the great Levant, Kahu undertakes the training to become a beast hunter. The training is long and perilous, involving many journeys through the mysterious Wormhole Forest, a land fraught with Divine Beasts and other strange creatures. Before Kahu can complete his training, he happens upon a curse when he disturbs the womb of a tiny fairy named Nico. This curse threatens to destroy Kahu, because it has created a more powerful, and even more deadly foe than any Divine Beast in the Wormhole Forest; the darkness inside of him. Now, the quest to save himself is the only thing that matters, and with the help of the both the fairy who cursed him, and the legendary Levant, Kahu is in a race against time to save himself from the curse that threatens to take his life.
The world of Jade Cocoon 2 is one almost as unique as its plot, with a very distinctive artistic style. Overall, the visuals in Jade Cocoon 2 seem to be a mixture of sci-fi and Japanese anime style graphics. The Wormhole Forest and the beasts that inhabit it often look like something straight out of an alien world, while at other times appearing more like a warped amazon rain forest. The characters are extremely detailed and crisp, and from a technical standpoint are exquisitely modeled and very well done, however the aesthetic approach here might appear to some to be a bit muddled. Whenever a character is speaking, a dialogue box will appear with that characters profile inside done in a very traditional Anime style. The appearance of the characters profile changes depending on the content of what they are saying or hearing, ranging from contemplative to down right spastic. Also, certain cutscenes are done entirely in this style, abandoning the games standard graphical format. As stated before, the anime-style graphics are quite familiar and would seem to be welcomed by fans of the genre, but for those who are not, the constant changing back and forth between graphical styles can be quite unsettling and often annoying.
Visual effects are one of the more sound aspects to Jade Cocoon 2, as there are myriad little touches that are incredibly well done. When buzzing around Kahu in the air, the fairy Nico leaves a sparkling trail of what one can only presume to be fairy dust, and each little pixel sparks before dwindling like a flare on the night sky. The game also makes good use of motion blurring to create a pleasingly disorienting effect at times. For instance, when encountering his darker side for the first time, Kahu is caught up in a seeming whirlpool of light and negative space that fluctuates and vibrates, allowing for fairly accurate and impressive simulation of intense vertigo.
Other than the quality character modeling and impressive visual effects, the rest of the game is fairly average from a graphical standpoint. The levels are richly textured, but incredibly linear and small. Also, the level design tends to stay roughly the same throughout, with few noticeable variations. Many of the larger parts of a level, such as the cocoons strewn about, are often bare except for the random item on the ground or a character to talk to. Overall, Jade Cocoon is very impressive visually, but certainly not a title that exemplifies the state of the industry.
While Jade Cocoon's graphics are certainly innovative, it is in gameplay where this title shows just how unique and diverse it can be. While the story of Kahu and his cadre may not seem entirely compelling, the idea of capturing and raising beasts is certainly intriguing. After Kahu's initial training, he will venture through the various parts of the forest, acquiring new creatures that he can raise into Divine Beasts that aid him in battle. Upon finding one of the eggs of these creatures, Kahu can then take it to the Room of Life and hatch it. Once hatched, these beasts can be used in battle, performing special attacks based upon one of four elemental properties- Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. When in battle, Kahu is surrounded by a ring that corresponds to these elements, and beasts must be placed on the proper section of the grid in order to be effective. Your beasts are leveled up by winning battles, and can reach a maximum level of 20. As they become stronger, certain beasts can be merged together with others using a 'beast seed' to create more powerful creature with different abilities, however this cannot be done until each beast you wish to merge has reached at least level 15. Kahu will only start out with a small number of fairly weak beasts, but in time, through leveling up and merging, Kahu can control some impressive creatures, truly worthy of a title such as "Divine Beast". Overall, battle in Jade Cocoon 2 is quite strategic, with many similarities to chess, in that each type of creature has its own unique abilities, and they must all be used in unison for Kahu to be victorious. For instance, Water Beasts are known for healing, Earth Beasts can raise defense, etc. Using the right attack or move at the right time is essential in battle. However, upon merging certain beasts, it is possible to give birth to creatures that share wide-ranging abilities, adding a level of complexity to the process. Also, battle experience is not gained in the forest alone. Kahu can visit an area called the arena that allows him to test himself, and in doing so raise his level. This is not always so easy though, because before Kahu can undertake these tests, he must prove himself worthy by fighting other beast hunters, which is also done in the arena. By winning those battles, Kahu earns 'reputation' points that allow him to take the more advanced tests.
However, there is more at stake for Kahu than simply becoming a great beast hunter. In order to save his life, he must track down the four sacred orbs that lay scattered throughout the four different areas of the forest. In each of the four forests, there are a total of 16 sections broken down into four levels of four forests each that must be explored, and at the end of each level, there is a boss that must be defeated. After defeating the final boss on the final level, Kahu acquires the orb that he needs. Each of the four forests is based upon one of the elemental themes in the game, which forces Kahu to be able to change his battle strategy, as not all beasts are equal in the various parts of the forest. Overall, the premise behind Jade Cocoon 2 is strong, with fresh concepts that make it standout from other RPGs.
One area in which Jade Cocoon does not standout from other titles, however, is sound. The voice acting in the game is sub par at best, often childish and reminiscent of after school cartoons. Most of the dialogue is overdone and comes off sounding cheesy. The soundtrack in the game fairly repetitive and not very compelling, but it isn't aggravating or hard to listen to by any means. Most of the music consists of percussion and guitar, mixed with both Japanese and African musical stylings, but it rarely works with the tempo of the game, and is often counter productive in that regard. For instance, while exploring in the forests, the music fails to keep up with what is happening around you.
Controlling Kahu while exploring is remarkably easy, and even in battle, the control scheme is intuitive and simple. While battling an enemy, Kahu can change the formation of the beasts that surround him with a simple tap of the L1 or R1 shoulder buttons, and attacks are easily performed by pressing the X button. After becoming adjusted to this control scheme, which won't take long at all, it becomes much easier to focus on the strategy involved in battle, which can at times be very frustrating.
Overall, Jade Cocoon 2 is a solid title that delivers engaging gameplay, yet falls just a bit short in a couple of key categories. While offering excellent gameplay and visuals, there is not much else to keep players interested, due to a weak story and soundtrack that fails to capture the imagination. While this game may not appeal to fans of traditional RPGs like Final Fantasy, it would certainly merit a purchase for those who are looking for something a little more different.
3/11/2002 Ryan Hartmann